President Donald Trump made his first visit to a combat zone Wednesday, visiting U.S. troops at the Al Asad Air Base in Al Anbar Province in Iraq.
About 100 U.S. servicemen and women greeted the President and First Lady Melania Trump with a standing ovation at Al Asad’s dining facility. Many soldiers were wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats and asked the President to sign them. The President and First lady spent about 15 minutes talking with troops there.
Speaking to a larger group of soldiers at the base afterwards, the President intimated that U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts would be curtailed in his administration.
“While American might can defeat terrorist armies on the battlefield, each nation of the world must decide for itself what kind of future it wants to build for its people, and what kind of sacrifices they are willing to make for their children. America shouldn’t be doing the fighting for every nation on Earth not being reimbursed, in many cases, at all,” the President said.
“If they want us to do the fighting, they also have to pay a price — and sometimes that’s also a monetary price — so we’re not the suckers of the world. We’re no longer the suckers, folks. And people aren’t looking at us as suckers. And I love you folks because most of you are nodding your head this way. We’re respected again as a nation. We’re respected again,” he said.
The President thanked the troops for their courageous fighting against ISIS, the terror group which had taken over larger swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria amid extended internal strife in those countries.
“The other reason I’m here today is to personally thank you and every service member throughout this region for the near elimination of the ISIS territorial caliphate in Iraq and in Syria,” the President said.
“Two years ago, when I became President, they were a very dominant group. They were very dominant. Today, they’re not so dominant anymore…great job,” the President said to cheers from the troops.
The President had received criticism in recent months for not visiting troops in a combat zone as had become tradition over the last nearly two decades. President George W. Bush visited soldiers in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003, several months after America invaded that country. President Barack Obama flew to Baghdad in April 2009, three months after taking office. He also visited Afghanistan four times during his time in office.
But Mr. Trump had received criticism for not visiting with troops in a war zone during his close to two years in office. He recently told Fox News that he hadn’t visited with troops overseas because of “an unbelievably busy schedule.”
From Iraq, the President and First Lady flew to Germany where they met with service members early Thursday morning at Ramstein Air Base. A senior administration official said the trip, which was shrouded in secrecy, had been in the planning for weeks.
“I had concerns for the institution of the presidency because — not for myself, personally,” the President said of the precautions that needed to be taken. “I had concerns for the first lady, I will tell you. But if you would have seen what we had to go through, with the darkened plane, with all windows closed, with no lights on whatsoever, anywhere — pitch black. I’ve never seen it. I’ve been in many airplanes — all types and shapes and sizes. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The President and First Lady were accompanied by National Security Adviser John Bolton and a small group of reporters.
The trip comes a period of uncertainty surrounding Mr. Trump’s foreign policy strategy, especially as it relates to Syria.
Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis resigned the day President Trump announced that U.S. troops would be pulling out from Syria, citing sharp differences in philosophy with the President on the way America should maintain strategic partnerships.
“One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,” Mattis wrote.
Mr. Trump has said he views those partnerships as shared responsibilities and believes it is time allies share the cost of security the U.S. extends to its allies.
“To those few Senators who think I don’t like or appreciate being allied with other countries, they are wrong, I DO. What I don’t like, however, is when many of these same countries take advantage of their friendship with the United States, both in Military Protection and Trade…” the President wrote on Twitter.
President Trump did not meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi while he was in Iraq. The two men had been scheduled to meet at the air base, but security and other reasons kept that from happening, according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
The two leaders did speak by phone and during the call President Trump extended an invitation to Abdul-Mahdi to visit the White House and the prime minister accepted, Sanders said.
Photo by The White House via Flickr